Sunday, June 23, 2024

In the Circus Parliament last week

Officially, there are two houses of parliament: Ntlo ya Dikgosi – being the lower house of parliament, and the upper house which is only ever referred to as Parliament. In reality though, there are three houses – the third is lowest house of parliament and its business takes the form of a circus that ladles out clownish antics almost every minute that it is sitting. To be perfectly clear, not all MPs belong to this parliament and at this point, those who follow parliamentary debates should know who regular Members of the Circus Parliament (MCPs) are.

Last week, there was another ritualistic floor duel between the MCP from Mogoditshane, Tumiso Rakgare, and the MCP from Mahalapye East, Yandani Boko.

Rakgare had stated that MPs of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change have insulted civil servants, prompting Boko to rise on a point of order to challenge such assertion. Boko asked Rakgare, who is the Minister of Youth, Sport, Culture and Gender, to specify the insult (“tlhapa” in Setswana) that the UDC MPs had used. The minister decided to weasel out by saying that “tlhapa” also has a figurative meaning and that Boko was still too young (“o santse a le monnye”) to understand that.

Upon conviction that the Deputy Speaker, Pono Moatlhodi, was overly lenient on the MCP from Mogoditshane, the MCP from Mahalapye East rose to interrupt the former’s contribution with a complaint: “I’ve said this, Mr. Speaker, times without number: I am a responsible father and a responsible husband. I am sick and tired of being called young and all sorts of things. I don’t like that Mr. Speaker, I don’t enjoy it.”

This exchange happened in the middle of a debate on the Serious Crimes of International Concern Bill. During the last meeting, Rakgare threatened to pulverise Boko with a cocktail of blows (“Ke tla a mo thuga!) outside the chamber during yet another heated exchange on the floor. On social media, that threat was turned into a double entendre. Despite the fact that western education doesn’t solve African problems, part of Boko’s MCP-ism has taken the form of him persistently bragging about his academic qualifications and questioning the intelligence of some of his colleagues on the other side of the house. A Botswana Guardian prose-comedy column has proposed that a Power Slap contest between these perpetually feuding MCPs might end their all too apparent enmity.

Contributing to the debate, the Selibe Phikwe East MP, Kgoberego Nkawana, spoke not of oppression that is happening currently but happened in the past when Bangwato lorded it over Batswapong. Then, he said, Batswapong postal runners collected mail in Palapye and walked all the way to Serowe to deliver it. Off-camera, the voices of two or three MCPs from as many places nonchalantly quipped that the Batswapong in question actually got good physical exercise from such errand.

Ba ne ba exercisea,” said one MCP, meaning that they runners were walking for exercise.

Likewise, when he was back at his seat as Tonota MP, Moatlhodi became an MCP over a sensitive issue. When someone interrupted him while he was still on the floor, Moatlhodi retorted with “O se ka wa ntsena ganongebile ke motona mo go wena le ka letso – ke Mokhurutshe.” He had earlier said to somebody else that he can’t be interrupted because he is a Mokhurutshe.

Maun East MP, Goretetse Kekgonegile, took umbrage at Moatlhodi’s quip, adjudging it to be tribalistic. The words had apparently been directed at Motsamai Motsamai, the Gantsi South MP. The final arbiter in matters of this nature, Speaker Phandu Skelemani, didn’t see anything wrong with what Moatlhodi had said and didn’t wave a red flag

“Those are you own words, not his,” ruled Skelemani, adding that personally, he knew Moatlhodi to indeed be a Mokhurutshe.

Nkawana would himself don an MCP hat when he rough-tackled the Minister of Housing and Public Works, Eric Molale, who was not in the house at the time.

In the past, there has been public reporting to the fact that Molale, who has never been an intelligence operative, mysteriously came into possession of highly sophisticated spying equipment belonging to military intelligence. At the time, he was the Permanent Secretary to the President.

On the basis of this incident, Nkawana said that Molale doesn’t have moral authority to say the righteous things he had said earlier. Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, who is the ex-officio Leader of the House, interjected to say that Nkawana was talking about an issue that he knew nothing about and was taking advantage of Molale’s absence in the house to raise the issue. Undeterred, the MCP from Selebi Phikwe East lobbed another missile when he resumed the floor: that rumours coming from the Goodhope-Mabule constituency are that Molale routinely sjamboks those who stray onto his farm.

When someone on the other side of the house made to remonstrate with him, Nkawana said that he had moved on from the issue about the spying equipment (“ditshipi tsa makgoa tse a di tsereng”) and was now talking about the whip Molale cracks on people (“ke bua ka shamboko e e lelang”) in his home area who are unfortunate enough to go into his farm without his approval.

“Barolong can bear witness to that,” he added.

The MCP from Selebi Phikwe East contrived to establish a link between Molale’s alleged misdeeds and the oppression (“kgokgontsho”) that the Serious Crimes of International Concern Bill seeks to criminalise.

A comedy of errors turned the Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Beauty Manake, into the MCP from Tsholetsa House, the headquarters of the ruling party. This happened when she was debating the Botswana Meat Industry Regulatory Bill. Looking up from her notes, she wrongly assumed that Motsamai, who had probably moved from his seat, was not in the house. Manake said that she was surprised that a Gantsi MP who should have been in the house to speak on behalf of farmers who are given bad cheques when they sell cattle was outside “drinking tea.” Gantsi has only one other MP: John Thiite of Gantsi North. Both Thiite and Manake are BDP members and while former has a constituency, the latter doesn’t.

During the first meeting of the house, Motsamai threatened to boycott refreshments that MPs are served when the house is sitting until the government restored water supply to the villages of Charleshill and Makunda in his constituency. That was context in which “drinking tea” was a jab at Motsamai. Unfortunately for Manake, only Motsamai was in the house – which made Thiite the butt of her joke. The Leader of the Opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse, made a point-of-procedure interjection to put Manake on the spot about this slip-up.  She then tried to backtrack and redesign her joke but it was a little too late for that.

While its times are indeterminate, the Circus Parliament sits every day that Parliament proper is sitting. These parliaments use the same Speaker.


Read this week's paper